Selfies, Child Pornography and the Law

Feb 10, 2014

The internet and social media have opened up the dissemination of the good but also what society has deemed to be the bad. On any given day there are news stories of persons being arrested for the possession of child pornography. While mostly adults, some are children themselves. How social media and one wrong choice can devastate a child’s life.


Just last week a 16 year old Virginia girl was arrested for creating child pornography. She admitted to taking “lewd” photos of herself, posting them to Twitter and sending them directly to male friends.

That incident is not isolated. In a conversation that speaks in general terms and not about any one case, Sergeant Stephen Anders of the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task force says far too many young people--predominantly girls but boys too--are creating “selfies” in varying degrees of sexuality and do not realize they may indeed be doing something illegal.

“She takes a picture of herself, exposing herself, whether its her breasts or genitals, she just produced child pornography because it is sexually explicit material depicting someone under the age of 18. She then sends it to her boyfriend, she’s now distributed child pornography. In addition to producing and distributing it she posses it because you have to have it before you can send it to someone and after you make it you posses it. So, right there in Virginia that’s three different felonies that she committed by taking that one picture and sending it to her boyfriend.”

If the boyfriend asked for the picture, he solicited child pornography and he is also in possession of it. Those, again, are felonies that can be compounded even further.

“But then if he starts sharing it with his friends, as most young men would be apt to do because they’re, like, “”...hey look at what I’ve got.”” you know, trying to raise their status level with their peers, that starts being distributed and it spider webs out until it is everywhere and everyone has access to it.”

Therein is one of the biggest and most dramatic outcomes of a child or adolescent taking pictures of themselves that are considered pornographic. Those pictures are out there in the wild and forever.

“It’s not just a picture. This has long term consequences to the point where people are taking their lives because they took a picture in a moment of indiscretion.”

Sergeant Anders, along with many others, visits schools and churches trying to share that message and it’s one that is hard sometimes to get across.

“But sometimes kids don’t take it seriously…. it’s just an adult trying to scare in something that’s harmless...not doing something…that they think is harmless. Because they don’t realize the long term consequences that can come from doing that.”

Anders observes society feasts on tabloid media turning the deliberate sexuality, “wardrobe malfunctions” and the like of young celebrities into fodder for internet memes and gossip. And, every day kids can become victims too.

“Society wants to be open with everything but when it does come out its very vicious towards the people that are doing what society wants  or says it finds acceptable. That pressure and emotional baggage that comes with that is overwhelming for a lot of people and, again, unfortunately, we’re seeing more and more people choose to taking their own lives as the only option to deal with it.”

In words that could be spoken by any parent from any generation, Anders says that kids need to be raised to realize that creating and sending pornographic images simply is not worth the after effects.

Unfortunately, it is highly likely the purported child pornography produced by the underage girl in Virginia is already out there and being consumed by child predators.

“If you want to find child pornography it is very easy to find it, very easy to locate it.”

During the coming weeks we’ll continue to explore a dark world that has no boundaries and preys on children.